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CD Review

Hector Berlioz

CSO Resound 9011501
  • Symphonie Fantastique
  • Lélio, ou le retour de la vie *
* Mario Zeffiri, tenor
* Kyle Ketelsen, bass-baritone
* Gérard Depardieu, narrator
* Chicago Symphony Chorus/Duain Wolfe
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Recorded Live at Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, Chicago - September 23-25 & 28, 2010
CSO Resound CSOR-9011501 2CDs 54:48+59:54
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This double disc set was drawn from the first subscription concerts in September, 2010 conducted by Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So for Muti and CSO admirers, it documents quite an historic chapter in their highly successful relationship. The audience is very quiet and the sound reproduction from CSO Resound is vivid and generally well balanced. Thus, as live performances go, these were recorded under just about ideal conditions.

The first disc contains a suavely yet excitingly played account of the Symphony Fantastique. Muti's tempos are in the moderate to slightly expansive range. Only the first and third movements might be viewed as tilting toward the slow side in places. That said, the first movement is perfectly convincing in capturing the crucial elements here – the dreamy and the passionate. The finale is exciting and powerful, conveying the hallucinatory character of the music with both energy and gusto. The three middle movements are also brilliantly shaped by Muti and splendidly played by the orchestra. There are many excellent accounts of this work by the likes of Beecham, Solti (also with the CSO), Bernstein, and Muti himself, with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This new one by Muti is certainly a welcome addition to the catalog and highly recommended.

It's easy to see why Lélio is an unpopular sequel to the Symphony Fantastique: it contains seven movements of pure narration in French that alternate with as many movements of music. But even some of the instrumental and vocal numbers have moments of narration. In addition, Lélio lacks the charismatic weirdness and sense of grandeur in the Symphony Fantastique. Still, there is much good music in it, perhaps the best being the lengthiest movement, the Fantasia on Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Again, the performances are excellent: tenor Mario Zeffiri and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen turn in fine work and Muti draws accurate and committed playing from the orchestra as well very good singing from the chorus. Well known French actor Gérard Depardieu makes a very dramatic and effective narrator: he holds nothing back in the most intense moments (some may say he goes a bit over-the-top in some of his shouting) and he draws laughter in several places from the audience. Since he moved around on stage during the performance he is sometimes heard from a more distant perspective, but overall the sound reproduction is very vivid for the narrator, singers, chorus and orchestra, even if the balances change from time to time. There is very little recorded competition in Lélio. Thus, to those interested in the work, this set from Muti on CSO Resound is a most desirable issue.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings